Queer @ Summerhall

Generous Lovers, Drag Queens and Willy Hudson on Coming Into Your Own

By David Pollock

The diversity and inclusivity of Summerhall’s Edinburgh Festival theatre programme is as important as the widely recognised quality of what we do. The stories our artists tell open windows upon all manner of experiences, and in 2018 we’re particularly happy to present a breadth of LGBT and queer voices on our stages.

This year La JohnJoseph, transfeminine creator of previous Edinburgh show Boy in a Dress and “the artistic love child of Penny Arcade and William Blake” (the Stage), tells their epic story of loving someone with mental health issues in A Generous Lover; the one-person Alma, A Human Voice reinvents drag queen philosophy with reference to Cocteau; the Polish piece Cezary Goes to War (part of Army at the Fringe) is a camp variety show around the theme of army recruitment; Duckie sees Le Gateau Chocolat reinvents Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling for young audiences; and Edinburgh playwright James Ley explores the city’s historic gay subculture in Love Song to Lavender Menace.

Below, actor and writer Willy Hudson tells us about his debut solo show Bottom, a gay man’s coming-of-age story which he created with mentorship from Bryony Kimmings:

“The tagline for Bottom is ‘a queer coming of age remix’. It looks at queer identity within queer culture, specifically the ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ dynamic in sexual relationships, and how that can have a big impact on how you identify within the culture. The work I make is a fusion of theatrical forms, there’s lots of stuff going on that’s challenging and breaking stereotypes, and opening up lived, queer experience.”

What’s it about?

“It’s an autobiographical show, basically me going through a third date with a guy I haven’t had sex with yet, but I’m going to be a top for the first time. So it goes through all the third date pressures and anxieties, but with this added element of having to take this sexual position that I’ve never done before, which also has a bigger impact on being a top or a bottom in life, not just in the bedroom.”

What is a ‘top’ or a ‘bottom’?

“In the bluntest way, it’s who is the fucker and who is the fucked. In the show I explain this, so part of it is like a queer sex education class. Within the loudest queer circles there’s a feeling that a top is seen as being very masculine and desirable, and a bottom is very feminine and… not undesirable, but there’s a running joke that if you’re a bottom you’re not as strong as a top. It’s how you’re seen by other people as well, it’s way more than what happens in the bedroom. ‘Bottom’ as a title for the show doesn’t just mean bottom in the bedroom, it means bottom in life. So are you conforming to these old-fashioned, gendered views, or are you standing up and being true to yourself?”

Who is the show for?

“It’s for everyone. People have come up to me after work-in-progresses and told me I’ve really opened their eyes. I want people to come away having seen somebody be completely honest about what’s going on with them, and feel they’ve had a good time and learned stuff, they’ve shared an experience and maybe they’ve gone through the same stuff and it strikes a chord. It’s delicately structured in such a way to show the heart of the subject, and I think by being funny and stupid and having all this quirky nervous energy, it allows me to be more honest and find the deeper emotion in the moments of tenderness and honesty. If I saw this show when I was trying to find myself, it would have been a massive help. It shines a light on the actual lived experience of a queer person who’s trying to be confident within themselves.”

Where does Beyonce come into it?

“I’m a massive Beyonce fan, so it would be weird if I didn’t put her in there! I’ve got a tattoo, I’ve seen her about six times, I’m on the Beyonce DVD… I’m a superfan. She’s got a song called ‘Love on Top’ which could not be more perfect as a soundtrack for the show, and all the references are there to pick up if you’re a fan.”